These Are the Best Bread Cloches for Crispy Sourdough, Based on Our Tests

Find out which classic baking vessel yielded the best loaves.

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challenger bread pan
Photo: Paige Grandjean

When you've got a little time at home, whipping up some freshly baked bread is one of the most satisfying and simple cooking projects we can recommend. Once you've let your dough rise and kneaded it to the perfect consistency, a bread cloche can help it bake into a crispy, crunchy loaf. Traditionally, a cloche is an unglazed stoneware dome that is first soaked in water and then placed over the dough as it's baking, to mimic the quality of a professional oven. These containers are meant to support the dough while they bake for a perfect rise and crispy crust.

A solid bread cloche should have a tight-fitting lid that can trap steam—giving the bread a crackly, blistered, golden-brown crust. It should also have a heavy-duty bottom that ensures a thick, crispy, golden base.

In search of the best bread cloche, we tested a few of the most popular bread baking vessels using a traditional sourdough recipe. The cloches we tested ran the gamut from cast iron to silicone, with shapes that ranged from deep and circular to rectangular or oval. Instead of the traditional clay, we found that our favorite bakeware was made of cast iron, and the Challenger Bread Pan surpassed our expectations as the overall best. This cloche trapped enough steam during baking for a crispy, golden crust and springy crumb. Read on for more on how we tested the best bread cloches.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: The Challenger Bread Pan

Best Bread Cloches
Courtesy of Challenger

Pros: This cast iron bread pan has a heavy-duty, tight-fitting lid that helped produce bread with beautiful, golden crust and soft, pillowy insides.

Cons: It's one of the heavier cloches on our list, so use caution when transferring it in and out of the oven.

Out of the bread cloches we tested, the Challenger Bread Pan yielded our favorite loaf of bread. The loaf had an open and uniform crumb, impressive oven spring, and a crisp crust. The dark cast iron helped achieve a rich color. While it was the heaviest cloche we tested, the handles on the lid made it easy to cover and uncover even when hot, and the short sides made it convenient to safely score the dough without burning your wrists.

We found that the lid completely sealed, which resulted in the perfect amount of moisture. The oblong shape makes it possible to bake both boules and bâtards, and though it's a single-use piece of cookware, if you're looking for consistently impressive bread, the Challenger delivers. This is a great buy for enthusiastic and frequent bakers.

  • Material: Cast iron
  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Width: 9 inches
  • challenger bread cloche
    Pictured: Challenger Bread Pan testing results. Paige Grandjean

Best Value: Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Best Bread Cloches
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: Since the lid doubles as a skillet, you can use this pan for much more than just baking bread, which makes it a great value for the price.

Cons: The shape of this pan only allows you to make one style of loaf, so you won't be able to make bâtards or baguettes.

Despite the difference in price between the more expensive Challenger Bread Pan and the affordable Lodge, these two were neck and neck when it came down to producing top-quality boules. With a pleasantly springy crumb and a dark, crisp crust the Lodge Cast Iron held its own against the pricier cloches in our test.

This is a heavy-duty piece of cookware that can be used to bake, braise, roast, or fry, and it comes with a pre-seasoned, nonstick surface. Handles on the lid make uncovering the hot Dutch oven easy, though we found that the placement of the handles is not as convenient as the Challenger. While the shape of the Dutch oven restricts you to boules only, having a more multipurpose piece of cookware makes this a great value.

  • Material: Cast iron
  • Weight: 13 pounds
  • Width: 10.5 inches
  • lodge dutch oven
    Pictured: Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven testing results. Paige Grandjean

Best for Beginners: Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Best Bread Cloches
Courtesy of Wayfair

Pros: This multifunctional tool can perform a variety of tasks like baking, frying and braising, so it's a great option for someone who isn't ready to commit to a dedicated bread cloche.

Cons: It's the most expensive piece of cookware on our list.

Though this is a pricey piece of cookware, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven is a classic piece that a lot of passionate home cooks already have in their kitchen. It's a multifunctional device that yields a fantastic loaf, which is ideal for home cooks who want to dabble in bread baking without adding another gadget to their collection.

During our tests, we found that the Le Creuset baked a chewy loaf; the quality surpassed bread made in some cloches that were specifically designed for the task. The lid seals tightly, trapping in steam for an open crumb and good oven spring. However, the tall sides make it a little trickier to score than the others. Note that this model features a stainless steel knob, which is oven-safe up to 500 degrees; meanwhile, the phenolic knob on the standard model can only withstand up to 390 degrees. Overall, this is a solid cloche to entrust with your bread baking.

Best for Boules: Emile Henry Bread Cloche

Best Bread Cloches
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: The scratch-resistant cloche is lightweight and designed to make perfectly shaped boules.

Cons: A single-use kitchen gadget, it can only be used for making one style of loaf.

This dedicated bread cloche is made from Burgundy clay, which promotes gentle, even heat and is oven-safe up to 500 degrees. It has a tight-fitting lid that encourages a moist baking environment, and the scratch-resistant glaze creates a nonstick surface. The Emile Henry Bread Cloche is lightweight, with a handle and short sides that make it easy to maneuver when hot.

Though the surface is nonstick, we found that the grooves in the bottom of the pan can make it tricky to clean. The pan is well-made and produced solid loaves, but the shape of the pan limits you to only making boules. Overall, we found that the loaf had a decent crust, but didn't compare to the cast iron contenders on our list.

  • Material: Clay
  • Width: 11.25 inches
  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • emile henry bread cloche
    Pictured: Emile Henry Bread Cloche testing results. Paige Grandjean

    Conclusion

    Overall, our testers found that the Challenger Bread pan (view on the manufacturer's site) was the easiest to use, clean, and care for, and it produced our favorite loaves of bread. The lid sealed completely to lock in the right amount of moisture, and the cast iron material imparted a crispy, golden crust.

    Factors to Consider

    Design

    Bread cloches come in a variety of different styles, from clay Römertopfs to cast iron boule bakers to versatile, multifunctional Dutch ovens. Having a devoted bread cloche is an easy way to make restaurant-quality fresh bread at home, but a Dutch oven can serve as a multipurpose solution as well. Before selecting the best bread cloche for you, make sure to assess how often you'll use it and what style of bread, from baguette to bâtard to boule, you intend to use it for. If you prefer circular boule styles, a Dutch oven is a viable option. If you want something with more room to play with shapes like a longer baguette or a rectangular loaf, you'll need a cloche that allows for different styles.

    The design and overall ease of use play a huge factor in selecting a bread cloche, and we took both into consideration in our testing. Low-sided pans make it safer to score the dough without burning your wrists on the hot pan, and convenient handles are a must when handling pre-heated cast iron.

    Material

    Traditionally, bread cloches are made from unglazed stoneware that gets soaked in water. The dome shape helps trap in moisture, and the steam gives the bread its crispy texture. However, bread cloches can also be made from cast iron, silicone, and ceramic, and we tested one of each. Though silicone is flexible and can yield different shapes, we preferred the durable and heavy-duty cast iron, because the dark material imparted a rich, golden color on the bread.

    Lid

    A tight seal is essential for creating crusty bread, so we evaluated each cloche on its accompanying lid. Bread cloches should have a solid, heavy-duty cover that traps in moisture and doesn't let steam escape. Our least favorite loaves were baked in cloches that leaked steam, resulting in flatter bread.

    The Tests

    bread cloche test boules
    Paige Grandjean

    We put these bread cloches to the test by trying out a trusty, basic sourdough recipe in each. We ranked them by how convenient they were to use and clean and how heavy they were to transfer in and out of the oven. We assessed the quality of the different materials and the effects that material had on the color of the loaf. Lastly, we assessed the shape of the cloche and how effectively each lid trapped in steam as well as the quality of the resulting loaf.

    Three of them produced stellar results: The Challenger is best for the baker who's looking for reliably flawless boules and bâtards; the Lodge is our versatile value pick that resulted in bread just as beautiful and delicious as the kitchen splurges, and the Le Creuset is a reliable workhorse for first-time bakers that you may already have in your kitchen.

    What Didn't Make the List

Lekue Silicone Bread Baker

lekue bred pan
Amazon

While the Lekue Silicone Bread Baker boasts many features that promise convenience—it's dishwasher safe and can act as an all-in-one mixing bowl, proofing basket, and baking pan—the bread was disappointing. It was heavy, dense, gummy, and noticeably more sour. While it's the cheapest of the cloches we tested, we think it's worth splurging on slightly pricier bakeware for better bread.

Römertopf

best-bread-cloches-Romertopf
Courtesy of Walmart

A Römertopf is a clay pot that gets soaked in water and is used to cook a variety of different dishes, from bread to roast chicken. We found that this method produced a flat, dense loaf, which was our least favorite of the bunch. The bottom crust was charred and crumbly, while the top was unevenly browned and steamed rather than crispy. The loaf itself stuck to the bottom of the pan and had to be pried off. While the Römertopf is a great piece of cookware to have in your kitchen for another purpose (like this Römertopf-Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables), we don't recommend it as a go-to for bread baking.

Pro Panel Q+A

What does a bread cloche do?

"A bread cloche is a specialized piece of bakeware that creates the ideal baking environment for making bread, one which is quite hot and steamy," says Ted Burdett, founder of Fourneau, known for cast iron bread ovens that bakers can use right in their wall oven or range. "Bread dough needs sufficient heat to spring quickly and sufficient steam to develop a good crust. A cloche is particularly useful in the home baking environment, in which baking temperature can be slow to recover and steam easily dissipates," he says.

"Smaller than an oven, a cloche provides a right-sized enclosure in which steam, either released from the bread or introduced, is more effective. The enclosure recovers and maintains temperature nicely because there is less air inside to heat," he says. The hot surface of the cloche also helps, as cloches are often made of materials with thermal properties, such as earthenware, cast iron, and steel, which control how heat is released into the baking chamber, according to Burdett.

How do you use a bread cloche?

You can use a bread cloche in an oven, including a wood-fired oven, and on a gas grill, according to Burdett. "Prepared dough (fermented, formed, and rested) is placed within the cloche and baked in the oven. A loaf of bread can be baked to completion in the cloche, but often the cloche will be opened after the loaf is sprung (roughly halfway through the bake) to facilitate browning of the crust and drive excess moisture out of the bread. Once a loaf is removed from the cloche, the cloche is either used to bake another loaf or allowed to cool," he says.

Do you preheat a bread cloche?

Yes, according to Burdett, who takes inspiration from Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman. "I've seen numerous instruction sheets that direct users to bake in a cloche without preheating. I have not had success with that method," he says. "You absolutely want to preheat a bread cloche to reap the benefits of the device. Of course, you need to be extremely cautious with loading, unloading, and manipulating the hot (typically 500-degree) bakeware. That problem – the handling of hot, heavy bakeware – is what inspired my company to design the Fourneau Bread Oven."

Our Expertise

Antara Sinha, the author of this piece, is a cooking editor with four years of experience writing for brands like Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cooking Light Magazine. She used her own expertise as well as the results gathered during testing to make these recommendations. Recipe editor and developer Paige Grandjean evaluated the bread cloches on this list, baking sourdough loaves in each one and rating them on quality and convenience. In her six years working at the Meredith Food Studios, she has tested and developed more than 2,500 recipes for over 15 nationally distributed magazine brands including Food & Wine, Real Simple, Eating Well, Southern Living, and People.

This piece was also updated by Stacey Ballis, a freelance writer, recipe developer, and product reviewer. Stacey has been published on Food & Wine, Eating Well, Allrecipes, MyRecipes, Delish, and more.

Read Next: The Best Cast Iron Pans Guaranteed to Last a Lifetime

Updated by
Paige Grandjean
Photo of Paige Grandjean

Paige Grandjean is a food editor and recipe developer with over seven years of experience in food media. Her recipes and writing have appeared in over 15 nationally distributed print publications as well as on various digital platforms. Paige's recipes have been showcased on the covers of magazines such as Food & Wine, Southern Living and Cooking Light, with her 2020 Food & Wine Lamination cover story earning a spot as a Folio: Eddie and Ozzie Award Finalist. She is a member of IACP and has a WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits.

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